5 Factors That Can Help Rangers or Athletics Pull Away in Tight AL Race
The Oakland Athletics beat the Texas Rangers on Wednesday evening to pull even with the Rangers atop the AL West.
The two teams have gone back and forth all season, and neither has been able to create any separation in the first five months of the season.
However, with less than a month before the regular season ends, the two teams will need to decide which will win the division crown soon.
With roughly four weeks to decide which team wins the division and which one will hope for a wild-card spot, these are the factors that will decide the race.
Can the Athletics Wake Up on Offense?
The reason the Athletics haven't run away with this division behind their pitching is the team's offense.
Ranking in the bottom half of the AL in runs scored, the team hasn't been able to put up enough runs to ensure victory night in and night out.
The team's offense needs to turn things up a notch, and it will start with Yoenis Cespedes.
After winning the 2013 Home Run Derby, Cespedes proved to the world that he has some serious power. However, he has been in a slump as of late, hitting just one home run since Aug. 16.
Apart from Cespedes, the rest of the team needs to step up as well. If the Athletics aren't able to put up some runs against weaker competition, then they have a serious problem.
Can the Rangers Keep Up Their Offensive Explosion?
After Nelson Cruz accepted a 50-game ban due to his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, the common expectation was that the Rangers would struggle offensively. After all, what team can lose its leader in both home runs (27) and RBI (86) and remain just as productive.
Since Cruz went down, the team has been scoring 5.9 runs per game and has gone 19-7 during that span.
The Rangers have actually been better without Cruz, thanks in large part to the success of Alex Rios. Rios has been batting a hair under .300 and has shown some power since joining the Rangers and has filled in nicely for Cruz.
The Rangers have been on fire on offense, and if they can continue that trend, they could take the division.
Will Grant Balfour Rebound?
It's hard to say that Grant Balfour has been in a slump, but anything less than perfection has become a slump for him after he converted 44 consecutive saves.
However, Balfour's streak came to an end in July, and he blew another save at the end of August.
Apart from blown saves, Balfour's last four appearances haven't been up to his normal standards. He's blown a save, allowed five earned runs and allowed five walks and five hits—including a home run.
Balfour hasn't looked like his usual self as of late, and if he blows another save or two, that could be enough to determine such a close race.
One of the biggest difference-makers in the postseason push is which prospects get called up in September and how they perform.
Both teams called up and recalled players, with the headliner being Michael Choice.
After being taken with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Choice impressed in the minors and was called up by the Athletics. Choice has fantastic power, and Bleacher Report MLB prospects guru Mike Rosenbaum loves his strength:
Launched 30 home runs in the California League (High-A) during full-season debut in 2012.
Physically strong with plus raw power; vicious bat speed the result of a max-effort swing; produces tape-measure home runs; efficient weight transfer in swing, but still involves too many moving parts.
Choice is the top prospect who will be on display over these next four weeks, but guys like right-hander Cory Burns and catcher Robinson Chirinos could also make a difference.
These guys will provide a shot in the arm for their respective teams, and their contributions can't be overlooked.
Strength of Schedule
The Rangers don't have an outrageous schedule coming up, but it makes that of the Athletics look like a cake walk.
The two teams will play each other three more times before the season's end, but the difference in the schedule is that the Athletics don't play a single team over .500 other than the Rangers.
The Rangers will play the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays before the season ends, giving them 10 games against teams over .500, seven of which are on the road.
If the Rangers are going to win the division, they'll need to do it against better competition, while the Athletics can breeze through their schedule and put the pressure on the Rangers.